The Story of the Yanagawa Canals is the 1987 live-action documentary directed by Isao Takahata and produced by Hayao Miyazaki (the first project under his production company, Nibariki). It aired on Japan's NHK network and has appeared on VHS, LaserDisc, DVD and Blu-Ray, the latter as part of the excellent Isao Takahata Blu-Ray Box package. This is a lesser known work in the directors' canon, but no less brilliant or compelling.
Yanagawa features a number of short animation clips, describing details of the vast and complex system of waterways, sluices, gates and canals that developed and evolved over centuries. Some segments show moments of daily farming life, and there are even a couple comical bits like frogs swimming about. All of these were animated at Studio Ghibli, although the studio wasn't technically credited for the production, which began in 1984.
Earlier this year, Toshio Suzuki revealed a fascinating story about the early days of Studio Ghibli. After the box office success of Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, Hayao Miyazaki's fortunes (which suffered through the difficult years of 1977-83) dramatically turned around, and he found himself with real money for the first time in his career. Suzuki suggested that Miyazaki-san serve as producer of Takahata's Yanagawa documentary project, and so Nibariki was founded.
Unfortunately, as nearly always happens, Paku-san found himself behind schedule and over budget. Miyazaki became exasperated as his money steadily drained away. In a panic, he turned to Suzuki-san, who offered some sly advice: Why not direct another feature film? With the financial backing of publisher Tokuma Shoten (the publishers of Animage Magazine, of which Suzuki was in charge), the decision was made to found a new animation studio.
Hayao Miyazaki would dub this new home Studio Ghibli, based on the Italian word for a hot wind. He, Takahata and Suzuki would be its founding fathers. Miyazaki set to work on Ghibli's inaugural movie, Laputa: Castle in the Sky. Paku-san would serve as producer, as he did on Nausicaa. Suzuki would serve as the Svengali, the power behind the throne. The rest, as they say, is history.
The Story of the Yanagawa Canals was finally completed in 1987, after a very long three-year production schedule. Miyazaki finally hit the brakes and cut off Paku-san's budget. "That's it! End of story! Go to bed!"
These screenshots come courtesy of Generacion Ghibli, everyone's favorite Studio Ghibli website from Spain. Be sure to visit them and follow them on Twitter. And don't forget to purchase the new book, Antes De Mi Vecino Miyazaki.